Lawsuit by Florida teachers is still alive. Here’s where things stand.

Schools in most counties have reopened. But the case could settle larger issues, like whether the state can force actions that school districts deem unsafe.
Florida students continue to attend classes in person while a lawsuit challenging the state's reopening order winds its way through court.
Florida students continue to attend classes in person while a lawsuit challenging the state's reopening order winds its way through court. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]
Published Sep. 17, 2020

Legal maneuvering continues in the Florida Education Association’s ongoing constitutional challenge of the state Department of Education’s school reopening order.

Though schools in most counties already have reopened, the case hangs over the state government as a lingering question of whether it had the authority to force school districts to resume in-person instruction when local officials deemed it unsafe to do so.

Aiming for a quick end to the case, lawyers for the state have asked the 1st District Court of Appeal to reconsider whether the teachers union had legal standing to bring its complaint in the first place. Leon County Circuit judge Charles Dodson ruled against the state’s original motion to dismiss based on standing.

Related: Florida school reopening lawsuit heads to mediation

The lawyers also suggest the case should be dismissed based on separation of powers grounds.

“The circuit court lacked jurisdiction to consider these claims and should have dismissed them instead of wading into policy debates and making its own political judgments about the best way to educate students safely while balancing the risks of COVID-19,” the attorneys wrote in their motion. “The court’s refusal to dismiss threatens to subject the Governor, the other State Defendants, and millions of Floridians to precarious uncertainty while the State diverts limited public resources to defend its policies against claims that never should have been entertained in the first place.”

If the court sides with the state on this point, the rest of the case relating to the appeal of Judge Dodson’s temporary injunction would be rendered moot, unless the plaintiffs win an appeal on standing before the state Supreme Court. If it sides with the union, and allows the initial case to proceed, the questions relating to the appropriateness of the Department of Education’s actions would remain in play.

The injunction case is on hold while these other matters work through the appeals process.

Related: School reopening lawsuit: Judge rules in favor of Florida teachers

On Thursday, the appellate court issued an order to the parties to show cause why the new motion and the underlying appeal should not be consolidated. The move comes two days after the court rejected a motion to remove two judges who were under consideration for appointment to the Supreme Court.

Neither of those two judges were selected.

Ron Meyer, one of the Florida Education Association’s lawyers, said he was not surprised to see the state take its latest step to end the lawsuit. He was hopeful that the case would be completed more quickly than usual appeals, which can take a year or longer.